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    Martin Buckley
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    CAR #Renault-Caravelle / #Renault
    RUN BY Martin Buckley
    OWNED SINCE May 2019

    The Caravelle just fell into my lap back in May, when I bought it as a car for my fresh-air-loving wife, Mia, as an antidote to a succession of thirsty, loss-making Mercedes-Benz convertibles.

    Restored 30 years ago, which is when it acquired the ’80s red paint that almost everything ended up with in those days, the Renault is a 1965 model that was originally gold. The dashboard still is. It came with spare doors, bonnet, bootlid, seats and a hardtop that I doubt will ever get used and is, in any case, painted blue – a remnant of the car’s first colour change.

    Other than some microblistering, the red has held up pretty well so I can’t see myself putting it back to the original colour just yet.

    The only things that offend my sensibilities are the homemade interior door panels, but the originals are with the spares to use as patterns if I ever get the urge.

    Sold new in Swindon, the Renault was bought by its second owner, Tim Bennett, in the early ’80s. I bought it from Bennett having often spotted it parked next to the ramp in his former Renault workshop in Cirencester. It arrived with seized brakes and a pinhole in the fuel tank but was otherwise running fairly well.

    With the calipers freed and the hole fixed, Mia was itching to take to the road. I was not feeling quite so bullish about the car’s reliability and, sure enough, it conked out on a trip to Tetbury. I was amused to discover that my stepdaughter, Zoe, had never been in a car that has broken down before and the look of incredulity on her face when informed that Mum’s new Renault had actually stopped working was a picture of horror.

    Mia noted that, rather than getting abused by other drivers for blocking the road with a dead car, people were only too keen to help with pushing and advice.

    The problem was a mucky, gummed-up carburettor. Once that was rebuilt (by Gus Meyer), the Caravelle ran really well and cruised easily at 70mph. It has a delightful ride, light steering, excellent brakes (discs all round) and is generally a civilised and enjoyable car with a fun feel about it. The wonky numbers on the speedo look as if they were applied by a drunk person and even the air horns make a peculiarly camp French toot you couldn’t make up.

    With the (excellent) hood lowered you feel as if you are in a film driving this car, talking in subtitles as if playing a cameo role in Le Week-End. Actually, the best Caravelle-related film I have dug out is Road to St Tropez, an odd little short about a Parisian lady of a certain age who drives her white example for a week’s holiday and the romantic adventures that ensue.

    If you are a fan of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries on the TV, you will know what I mean when I say, as an unapologetic misogynist, that the Caravelle is the perfect sidekick/ foil to the Silver Cloud. It’s a decadent girl-about-town car for the kept woman of the ’60s stockbroker belt who, in Edgar Wallace’s world, is probably planning to murder her Cloud-driving hubby for the life insurance.

    It is a bit of a girl’s car, so much so that severe doubts about my manliness were cast by one and all when I turned up at my mate John Giacobi’s house in it on one recent sunny Sunday afternoon.

    But, by the time I had left, the Renault had picked up a whole slew of new friends; JG in particular got well in touch with his feminine Caravelle side. I’m trying to use the Renault a bit in the current good weather to prove the reliability so that Mia feels happier to venture off in it. As I write, all seems good.

    THANKS TO Gus Meyer

    The Caravelle has lived a life in technicolor – once blue, now red, it left the factory in gold Making the most of summer’s remnants. Nose script is straighter than the dials’… Minor issues resolved and the Caravelle was soon on the road – for a time, at least.
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    Martin Buckley

    Renault Caravelle Open Group


    The Renault Caravelle is a sports car manufactured and marketed by Renault for model years 1958-1968 in a single generation — as a rear-engine, rear drive open two/four-seater designed by Pietro Frua of Carrozzeria Ghia, using the floorpan and engine of the Renault Dauphine.

    Outside of North America ...and Britain it was, until 1962, marketed under the nameplate Renault Floride.

    Renault was envious of the growing success in North America of the Volkswagen Bug/Beetle and were looking for ways they might match the Volkswagen's success with their own Renault Dauphine. At a convention of North American distributors that took place in Florida, Renault's US dealers called for the creation of a Dauphine coupé/cabriolet which would improve Renault's image in the critical US market. Renault's chairman, Pierre Dreyfus, agreed, and since the concept had been born at a convention in Florida the car instantly became known within the company as the "Renault Floride".

    The "Floride" name was considered unsuitable for 49 of the 50 states of the USA, however, since it could have implied disrespect to states other than Florida. For this reason an alternative name, "Caravelle", was from the start used for North America and for other major markets (including the UK) where the principal language was a form of English.

    Renault Floride S convertible (with hardtop).

    Renault Caravelle coupe. The sloping rear roof line was partially "squared off" in order to improve rear-seat headroom.

    Renault Caravelle cabriolet.
    The Floride was unveiled at the 1958 Paris Motor Show. A small rear-engined design by Pietro Frua at Carrozzeria Ghia, it used the floorpan and engine of the Renault Dauphine sedan.

    The Floride was launched in the United States and Canada as the Renault Caravelle a year after its introduction in Europe.

    The car was offered as a 2+2 coupe, a 2+2 cabriolet and as a convertible, the latter being a cabriolet with a removable hardtop. The 2,265 mm (89.2 in) wheelbase was shared with the Renault Dauphine but longer overhangs meant that overall the Floride was longer by a significant 320 mm (12.6 in), as well as being slightly lower and very slightly wider.

    At launch the Floride, like the Dauphine on which it was based, came with an 845 cc four-cylinder water-cooled engine mounted at the back of the car. However, the power unit on the Floride was fed using a Solex 32 mm carburetor as against the 28 mm diameter of the Solex carburetor on the Dauphine. The Florides making their French show debut on the stand at the 1958 Paris Motor Show came with a claimed power output of 37 hp (28 kW) SAE.

    By the time deliveries commenced, in early summer 1959, it was also possible for customers to specify a performance version, engineered by Amedee Gordini, which produced 40 hp (30 kW) SAE by means of various modifications to the inlet manifold and camshaft, and a compression ratio raised from 7.6:1 to 8.0:1.


    Power was delivered to the rear wheels via a three speed manual transmission with synchromesh on the upper two ratios. For a supplement of 200 New Francs customers could instead specify a four speed transmission on the slightly heavier coupé version of the car. Having regard to the car's power-to-weight ratio most customers chose to pay extra for the four speed gear box.

    Subcontracted production

    Although designed by Frua of Italy, the car's body was constructed locally, by the automobile body maker Société des usines Chausson, based in Asnières-sur-Seine at the northern edge of Paris, and known in France as the producer of many of the school bus bodies used for transporting children in country areas.

    Following the rapid economic growth experienced by France during the 1950s, and despite the fall-off in demand for the 4CV and the lacklustre market performance of the Frégate, thanks to the success of the recently launched Dauphine Renault still found themselves, in the second half of the decade, seriously short of production capacity. The main Billancourt plant, built on the Seguin island in the middle of the River Seine, was particularly ill-suited to further expansion. A new plant had been opened at Flins in 1952 and a second would follow near Le Havre in 1964, but neither of these addressed the challenge of finding somewhere to assemble the Floride in 1958.

    The heavy engineering company of Brissonneau and Lotz, better known as a manufacturer of rolling stock for the railways, had launched a small cabriolet sports car in 1956, based on the mechanical underpinnings of the Renault 4CV, but the Brissonneau coupé had been a tentative project and few cars were sold.

    Renault now persuaded Brissonneau to abandon their own automobile project and adapt their facilities for assembly of the Floride.

    Brissonneau's long standing experience with railway locomotives provided abundant relevant experience at operational and workforce level, and Renault contributed much of the investment which during 1958 and 1959 saw the main Creil plant of Brissonneau, comprising 190,000 m2 of which 41,280 m2 were covered, transformed into a production facility for the Floride: the Floride, later rebadged as the Renault Caravelle, would continue to be assembled by Brissonneau and Lotz until it was withdrawn in 1968.

    In October 1959, ready for the 1960 model year, the Floride, along with the Renault Dauphine, appeared with significant suspension improvements.

    The new suspension was conceived by the by now almost legendary automotive engineer Jean-Albert Grégoire and baptised by Renault "Suspension Aérostable", being intended to improve the car's ride and road holding.

    The addition of extra rubber springs at the front reduced roll and auxiliary air spring units (mounted inboard of the conventional coils) at the rear gave the rear wheels a small degree of negative camber and increased cornering grip.

    In March 1962, the Caravelle received a new 956 cc engine that would be also used by the new Renault 8 from June. Although the new "Sierra" series five-bearing engine shared no components with the existing 845 cc Dauphine engine, it was conceptually very similar: the engine size was chosen in order to come in (slightly) below the top of the 5CV car tax band in France.

    It had a sealed cooling system as well as a new front suspension, new rear geometry, new steering, and a new gear linkage. Moving the radiator behind the engine also freed up an extra 12 cm of space behind the front seat.

    Maximum power output increased to 48 hp (36 kW). Four-speed transmission, already included in the price at no extra cost on some export markets, now came as part of the standard with the new engine even for French buyers, although bottom gear still made do without synchromesh. The upgraded cars, first presented at the 1962 Geneva Motor Show, now featured disc brakes on all four wheels: the Floride was the first French volume car to benefit from this enhancement which also reduced unsprung weight by approximately 6 kg.

    The Caravelle name also replaced the Floride name in all markets from 1962 onwards.

    In 1964, another R8-derived engine of 1108 cc was introduced to the Caravelle, producing 55 hp (41 kW). This model was tested by the British "Autocar" magazine in November 1965. The car had a top speed of 89 mph (143 km/h) and accelerated from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 17.8 seconds. An "overall" fuel consumption of 30.2 miles per imperial gallon (9.4 L/100 km; 25.1 mpg‑US) was recorded. The Caravelle's performance closely matched that of the contemporary Triumph Spitfire 4 under most headings, though the Spitfire was a couple of mph ahead on top speed. The British car market was still protected by tariffs at this time, but even allowing for that the Renault looks expensive in this company: The Caravelle came with a UK recommended price of £1039 as against £666 for the Spitfire 4.

    Production got under way slowly, with only 3,777 cars completed in 1959. However, in 1960, following the important "Aérostable" suspension upgrades, Renault produced 36,156 Florides.

    By the mid-1960s, the Caravelle, which had been fashionably styled at launch, was looking dated, while the reduction and elimination of internal tariffs within the Common Market led to intensified competition in France for buyers of inexpensive sports cars, notably from Italy.

    Between 1966 and 1967, annual production tumbled from 4,880 to 2,991. During 1968, only 1,438 were produced, and it was during the summer of that year that Renault withdrew the Caravelle.

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    Martin Buckley
    Martin Buckley is now following Gitter
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    RUN BY Martin Buckley
    OWNED SINCE November 2017

    / #1967-Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile / #Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile-Toronado-MkI / #1967

    I’ve probably been meaning to go to the Pre 50 American Auto Club Rally of the Giants for 30 years, but Only made it in July in the Toronado. I seem to recall it was always held at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, but Blenheim Palace has apparently been the location for some years now. Handily, that’s less than an hour from my house. At 10 mpg these things become important, but having said that I never resent any of the fuel that goes into this car because it’s always an event in itself to take out and use.

    Talking of fuel, and probably as a knee-jerk response to all this talk of electric cars, on an outing the other week I parked the Toronado in front of a charging bay at a local cafe to see what the response would be. Within minutes a burly man in a high-vis jacket was making an approach; it turned out he owned a late-’60s Cadillac and was coming over to have a perv!

    Nick Kisch came down the day before Rally of the Giants and talked me out of fitting a ‘GB’ badge on the back (I did it when he went home). He also helped me with the tail-lights, where I have been struggling to get the indicator and stop bulbs working on the offside. This was only a partial success: the reproduction bulb holders are rubbish, but I have a feeling I have the original type in the spares hoard. This is too technical for me and will require the input of Gus Meyer, who has every intention of finishing the carburettor tune-up and fitting the radio aerial but has not quite got around to it yet – he is a man in demand. To be honest, apart from the tickover being too slow – and a long-winded cold-start procedure/ slow warm up – none of this affects the driving of the car, although, as former Riviera man Graham Millard pointed out when he drove the Toronado a few months ago, I should really get the wheels balanced to get the full effect of the car’s smoothness on the road.

    On the Sunday of the event we went five-up; Nick and me in the front, and Mia and her friends Neil and Georgie in the back. This slightly compromised the rear ground clearance, resulting in the occasional exhaust grounding. I sometimes think it looks as though it has settled a little on its rear springs slightly anyway.

    Exposure to previous American car events had prepared me for a day of Confederate flags and lots of rebel yell-type shenanigans, but ROTG was as civilised as a vicar’s tea party with lots of well-informed people and great cars. My favourite was a beautiful Continental II that looked almost ethereal in silver-grey, but I was disappointed to see that there were no Corvairs or Studebaker Avantis. Mine was the only Toronado, and I got the impression a lot of people had not seen one of them before.

    Wafting through the Cotswolds, the extra weight had very little effect on the performance and it’s a nice car to drive in the summer with all the windows lowered; it’s cool but without too much wind noise, so you can chat normally. It would be nice to reinstate the air-conditioning some time but I don’t especially feel the need for it as much as I do in some other cars, the NSU in particular.

    A phone sat-nav revealed that my speedo is wildly optimistic: 100mph is a true 75mph. This makes me think I’m running the wrong size tyres (smaller diameter?), but I almost don’t want to know because I will then feel compelled to invest money I don’t have. The tyres that are on the car have loads of life left in them. Sometimes even semi-ignorance is bliss – and cheaper.

    1 Nick Kisch
    2 Pre 50 American Auto Club
    3 Gus Meyer

    Toronado was unique at the Pre 50 American Auto Club Rally of the Giants, and the ideal car for Buckley’s maiden and decades-overdue trip. Toronado attracted attention, with working rear light and indicators – but no GB badge, yet.
    Ruby continues to enjoy the Toronado. Modern tech has shown the speedo’s wrong. Rally of the Giants attracted great variety Full load of passengers had its pitfalls.
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    / #Fiat-130-Coupe / #Fiat-130 / #Fiat

    I got the call in June to take the Fiat over to Mark Devany at Dino Twenty Four Hundred for new struts. That happened fairly quickly, but no word on improvement yet because Mark is also sorting the handbrake, rear flexi hoses and pads. Meanwhile, I’ve ordered a set of engine hoses and I’m looking forward to getting it back any day now.
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    CAR #NSU-Ro80 / #NSU
    RUN BY Martin Buckley
    OWNED SINCE 2009
    PREVIOUS REPORT August 2018

    Itching to use a ‘proper’ car after months of reliable but somewhat dreary Mercedes W124 estate winter motoring, I exhumed the NSU from the shed late in March for two trips to London. Actually, this wasn’t its first 2019 outing because I took FAR 666K out on a sunny Sunday in February to photograph it near Colesbourne in the Cotswolds. Rather than the usual half-hearted snap with a tree growing out of the roof (or the back end obscured by a wheelie bin), I took a bit of time over these. Happily they are good enough to be reproduced here (below).

    The first London trip in the Ro80 was with my dog Ruby to meet up with Nick Kisch for a VW show. I’m not massively into Beetles (although I’m intrigued by 411s and Type 3s), but it was an excuse to get out of the house, the wife having disappeared to Majorca for a three-week ‘working’ holiday. Our plans were thwarted by the fact that they don’t let dogs into Sandown Park, so we had a quick scoot around the car park and moved on to Brooklands Mini Day.

    Once again, no dogs. So I left Nick to it and visited Jason Yorke-Edgell to look at his rusty Monteverdis, which was probably more fun. My second London visit was really to Longcross for David’s memorial lunch; the ‘Ro’ was his favourite of my cars. The blue Husky Ro80 model he gave me is still on my mantelpiece.

    On the way home I left the slow moving M4 at junction 14 and took the B4000 cross-country along the Lambourn Downs, pausing to run a business card through the points – it only takes a speck of dirt to make the engine falter when it should be singing. It worked and I pressed on, frightening myself somewhere on the B4001. Braking late for a bend, the back end uncharacteristically locked up and unsettled the car’s (and my) composure. I must check the brake proportioning valve.

    The NSU fitted the bill again when I was invited to Paul Blofield’s 60th-birthday bash. Paul is a VW man to the hilt – he owns probably the oldest Beetle in the UK and an amazing Porsche-engined split-screen – so I reckoned the Ro80 was our best bet to join the selection of tastefully patinated ‘Splittie’ campers and ’50s/’60s saloons. I wasn’t the only non-Beetle: there was a very rat-look Jensen-Healey and a bumperless Alfa Romeo 750 Spider that belongs to Chris Mann and his wife. It was Easter Sunday and we were blessed with probably the warmest weather of the year.
    The Ro had been having cold start problems the day before, put down to plugs, but a good thrash over to Slad up the A419 seemed to clear them. I was pleased to see that Mia could do her mascara in the vanity mirror at 90mph [Ahem, not on a public road of course… Ed].

    A weird thing happened the day before. I spotted a familiar car – and a familiar face – conked out at the side of the road: Fredrik Folkestad and his (up to now totally reliable) #NSU-Wankel Spider.

    If he and I had a tow rope between us, you would be looking at a unique picture of a Ro80 tugging a Wankel Spider up the road. By the time I’d run Fredrik back home for the rope, the Spyder had righted itself and sprung back into life. Even so, not a sight you are going to see every day.

    Good weather over Easter led the NSU to join its VW cousins at Paul Blofield’s birthday gathering, among patinated cars aplenty. The NSU Ro80’s first outing of the year: to Colesbourne to be papped by Buckley.
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